Lets. Shucking. Go.
On a mission to #EatMoreOysters, our shucking classes return in partnership with Billion Oyster Project.
When it comes to food, our choices matter most. This summer, we’re celebrating the return of oysters to restaurant menus by getting shucking knives back in the hands of New Yorkers. On every half shell, you support ecological, economical, and equitable seafood which not only preserves the health of our waterways, but mends it.
It’s time to grow foods that fix our oceans, not harm them.
To keep oysters alive, we’ve got to start eating more of them.
Yes, you read that correctly. Eating farmed oysters may be our only hope in restoring the wild ones we’ve lost and the health of our oceans.
Oysters are an essential species in rebuilding ecosystems and improving the resilience of our oceans, seafood stocks and coastal cities. Stationed in estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay and New York’s Lower Hudson, they regulate the transition from land to ocean and river to sea. Like coral, oyster reefs are the cornerstone of a vibrant and vital wetland — cleaning water at capacities beyond any clam, providing rock-like habitat for juvenile game fish and protecting coastlines from erosion and storm surges. At large, oyster growth fosters more biodiversity —a key component of sustainable seafood.
According to Mark Kurlansky’s book The Big Oyster, New York Harbor once hosted millions of the world’s largest wild oysters. These legendary reefs lured many species, including humans. From the Lenape to early New Yorker’s of the 1800’s, oysters were a staple in the average diet and city’s capital. Oysters were sold in carts like modern-day Halal food, served as bar snacks and prepared in every way from freshly shucked to deeply fried. Molten shells line the foundation of New York’s oldest buildings and Pearl Street’s legacy hails from mountains of shells accumulated on its sidewalks.
It’s fair to say oysters were a foundation to the world’s greatest city — they just couldn’t handle its weight.
Native reefs built over thousands of years were decimated by the early 1900’s due to over-harvesting, severe water pollution and coastline development. Whatever was left became unsafe for consumption — effectively closing down the city’s harvest. The few farms remaining out on Long Island failed to shake the toxic reputation New York oysters had acquired. So, the city said goodbye to its oyster industry and all its ecosystem services.
Since the oyster empire’s collapse, New York’s waterways have gotten much cleaner — thanks to the creation of the EPA, Clean Water Act and non-profit water quality improvement efforts. But with Climate Change threatening our coasts today, New York and other cities are in dire need of oysters again to strengthen our shores. An average oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day and their permanent reefs keep surges at bay. The good news is, we’re bringing them back with the help of oyster farms and foodies.
Farming Forward & Shell Recycling
Eating our way to more oysters sounds counterintuitive, but locally farmed oysters served in restaurants are restoration initiatives in disguise. Oyster farming is a type of regenerative aquaculture — where the food being grown adds productivity to its surrounding ecosystem. Contrary to most intensified agriculture, which pollutes our atmosphere with greenhouse gases and our estuaries with eutrophication, responsibly grown seagreens and shellfish actively remove pollution and promote the regrowth of functional ecosystems.
Regenerative Aquaculture has a massive role to play in bringing back wild oyster populations and improving the quality of our wetlands, because oysters are pretty fragile animals. Wild oysters can only reproduce on permanent beds — where oyster larvae (a.k.a “spat”) can successfully grow. Their survival is then dependent on temperature and acidity levels specific to their variety. Both the quality of their surroundings and the bed reformation are improved with more regenerative farms along our coasts.
Improving Local Waters
For wild beds to survive, the quality of the water is top priority and hatcheries, farms and restoration efforts can get us started. Hatcheries produce baby oyster varieties which will become seed for both commercial oyster farms and restoration projects. Farms use hatchery varieties and grow the “seed” used to fill gabions (oyster cages), sometimes resting on the seafloor or suspended at a certain depth. Though farmed beds are not permanent and their fate is inevitably food, they significantly improve both local water quality and biodiversity throughout their lifecycle — creating a more hospitable environment for wildlife and wild oysters.
Rebuilding Our Reefs
The relay race starts with farms, but it’s up to foodies, restaurants and local organizations like Billion Oyster Project to make restoration efforts last through volunteer work and experiences that reconnect our seafood to our oceans. Diners who enjoy locally farmed oysters pass the baton of empty half-shells to BOP who clean and repurpose them in new beds. Spat require the shell’s carbonate-rich hard surface to settle on. With a constant stream of new shells from restaurants and eaters, we can steadily return our reefs to their former glory.
Dining to Make a Difference
Our food choices significantly affect the “Three E’s” of sustainability — economy, ecology, and equity. When we as chefs, restaurants, and everyday consumers choose to serve and eat locally-raised oysters, we can have our cake and eat it too — supporting a food source that restores ecological health, promotes local economies and aids the livelihoods of our neighbors choosing to farm forward. We alone have the power to create demand and incentivize the expansion of regenerative farms nationwide if we choose to make room in our diets for oysters.
Oysters were to be an integral part of our menu last spring, but the pandemic quickly put those plans on hold with forced restaurant closures. East coast oyster farms which rely on restaurants to purchase over 90% of their harvested product, suffered severely. Many restoration efforts were paused, including BOP’s shell collection program as oysters failed to re-appear on menus.
This begs the question: why are we solely reliant on restaurants to get our fill of oysters?
New Yorker’s Can’t Shuck Anymore.
If you’re eager enough to eat oysters outside the restaurant, the struggle of shopping for them is laughable when compared to the larger barrier of knowing how to open them. But with a little instruction, enjoying these gems at home is really a breeze.
Struggling to survive COVID-19 with a reduced menu and staff, we had to deliver the Seamore’s experience in new and creative ways — an oyster shucking class was the perfect fit. We converted our patio into a classroom, launching our first ever Oyster Shucking + Wine Pairing Workshop on Bucketlisters. Our executive chef Rob Eggleston came out of the kitchen, eagerly working with our oyster fans to crack open perfect oysters. Something that initially seemed so daunting became natural to five hundred guests last year. Each attendee left with exposure to local farms and brought new skills and oysters to their kitchen tables.
Launched For Farmers, Continued for New Yorkers
With the success of the series last year, we’d be crazy to end it there. This series proved restaurants could be exceptional and essential culinary classrooms — bridging food and ecology through shucking knives, white wines and unique experiences. With New York finally reopened and a re-appearance of oysters on menus, we’re dedicating this year’s theme to a healthier New York Harbor in partnership with Billion Oyster Project and their Shell Collection Program, because as they say “restoration without education is temporary”.
This local NGO aims to restore one billion oysters in our waters — with New Yorkers, for New Yorkers. They too are bridging restoration and education by collaborating with NYC students to foster lasting environmental stewardship in a concrete jungle. Through oyster-focused STEM programs, New York Harbor School students work on real restoration projects from Domino Park to Governors Island. With over 6,000 students and 10,000 community volunteers and educators, BOP has seeded 45 million oysters across 12 acres and 15 reef sites across New York City.
As a BOP restaurant partner, we’re extremely proud to highlight their work drive rehabilitation of NYC’s lost reefs. So we’re asking New Yorkers to #EatMoreOysters once again and join us on the patio this summer, shucking for change. Each class features four oyster varieties to shuck on your own! Our line up this season includes Whitestones (Chesapeake Bay), Mystics (Noank), Moonrise (Cape Cod), Dodge Cove (Pemaquin). A select wine from our beverage director will be paired with each variety. In addition to donating both shells and proceeds to BOP’s restoration efforts, we will be co-hosting two special shucking classes with the BOP team on June 28th and July 19th.
Whether or not you join our classes, we ask that you join us in eating more oysters. Consider dining at a restaurant that recycles their shells. Seamore’s and 75 other restaurants in NYC participate in the Shell Collection Program — giving two shells back with every oyster enjoyed!
If you don’t live in New York City, look for a restaurant that carries local varieties and spend some time getting to know the neighbors farming around you. A healthier Atlantic is crucial to sustainable seafood and necessary for the survival and wellbeing of our coastal cities. So please, eat more oysters — raw at your favorite bar, grilled at your next BBQ or freshly shucked in your home after a trip to the seafood counter.
Oyster Shucking + Wine Pairing Workshop @ Seamore’s
May 25th — July 26th
Every Monday & Tuesday | 6:00pm — 7:30pm | Outdoors
@ Brookfield Place & Market Bar — Urbanspace West 52
Before you enjoy your oyster experience, consider a donation to Billion Oyster Project. Any contribution puts us one step closer to a future where New York returns to a rich, diverse, abundant estuary for wildlife and for all.
For more information, tickets and donations visit Bucketlisters.